A idiots guide to what I think and why I climb Mountains.
Climbing big mountains basically has the human experience condensed into a very, very small period of time. Maybe it’s a 3-week climb. Maybe it’s just a 3-day hike in the Drakensberg. One thing for sure is that all the core aspects of our personality come forward in a condensed and direct way.
Everything is so intense and highlighted that it gives us an opportunity to really practice and shift and change behaviors if we desire to. What was that? If we desire to? Yeah so that’s where the hard part comes into effect. We humans find difficulty in that, well I do. Climbing a mountain is easy. Making a conscious effort to recognize and control Pandora’s box of emotions that they unleash is the challenge. The world has become a place of instant gratification but on a mountain there is no such concept. The summit has to be earned through patience, tolerance, determination, disappointment, team-work and maybe few forlorn cries with your favorite teddy bear while freezing your butt off in yet another snowstorm.
So what has mountaineering taught me about life?
Well, let me rephrase that. What concepts have they introduced me to that I am committing myself to learning. On a mountain, I can follow the concepts like a duck on water. In real life scenarios, I really suck at it. So here are 5 rules to life on a mountain and life. The answer is not 42. Although I have been alive for 42 years and the universe, life and everything didn’t give me a working calculator. What can I say, I’m a slow learner and it is not zubbawongchong either. I checked under the 19th rock from the summit of every mountain and couldn’t find the answer.
- Seek the best outcomes in everything – Except needing to go for a #2 at altitude. That can get messy.
- Embrace uncertainty – Man I battle with that. Running an adventure business and climbing mountains is all about uncertainty. Yes, it’s my chosen career. And I have been told on countless occasions to man up and just get on with it. So time to descend deep into the caverns of my soul and find the key to handling uncertainty. I just hope the orange ping pong balls don’t eat the last custard pie before I get there. Oh, and if you own a Landrover like me…..expect uncertainty every time you turn that key.
- Fully commit – And that is where fear and uncertainty gnaw away at the very fabric of your soul. Get rid of fear and uncertainty and committing is a breeze. Oh yes and maybe a dash of direction and strategic planning. And not the bespoke turnkey corporate jargon kind either.
- Tolerate adverse situations – Snow storms? Easy Peasy. Johannesburg traffic, laptops crashing, MTN ripping me R13k for small print I didn’t read? Ummmm, let’s just say that’s a work in progress.
- Seek great companionship
These are all lessons I originally learned from climbing, but that I now see in terms of a larger life perspective. At the macro level, these 5 rules can help bring new mindfulness about how we plan out our lives and make big decisions. At the micro level, they can help inform how we operate on a daily or moment-to-moment basis.
I need to create space in my mind for the five elements of adventure in both realms. There’s an important balance each of us has to strike in honoring and applying our strengths while also recognizing and honoring those areas that are more challenging for us.
Adventure is not necessarily about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or Everest, skydiving or eating bricks in Syria. It’s about living a life of full engagement. That’s a life where you’re fully present and fully invested in all aspects of your life: your significant relationships; your role as a husband, parent, sibling and friend; the work you do; and your involvement in the Secret Societies that influence the gearing ratios of big companies. Being fully engaged has a really different feel to it than being a passive participant. And that’s what real adventure is all about.
Climbing allows us to test ourselves within a relatively safe, controlled context — a space where the perception of risk is high and the sense of challenge is mind-blowing. It allows us to push beyond our preconceived notions of what is possible, and to do so in a contained, very focused way. We get to push ourselves, make mistakes, recover, learn from our mistakes and immediately apply those lessons to our next climbing attempt.
We are able to connect the internal experience with the external and to see connections between our physical, mental and emotional movement patterns. I think the heightened focus of climbing is a big component of that. There’s mental awareness and clarity of experience there that you rarely encounter in daily life.
Am I an unconventional free spirit?
Yes my career involves a tremendous amount of travel. These were expeditions that ranged anywhere from three to six weeks at a time. Where did climbing, going on expedition, and making a living fit into my responsibilities as a father and partner? My initial reaction was that I needed to follow a more conservative and conventional path, and get a “real” job.
But while out on a hike with my own personal Merlin, I shared my apprehensions about all this, and he reminded me that a woman didn’t fall in love with me based on my willingness to follow a traditional model; they will fall in love with me for who I am. I didn’t need to go down a conventional path to be in a relationship with her; I just needed to be myself. It was a pretty significant paradigm shift for me, and a liberating one.